Junior Firefighters Hone Life-Saving Skills

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MTT News Desk's picture
Katherine Perreth
From left to right: Garrett Christian, Brandon Acker, Benny Nevarez, Shelby Bacus, Josh Larson, and Dagmar LeMans

Dagmar LeMans learned a valuable skill that could come in handy during months of Wisconsin winters – and even in spring. She said if she ever sees someone fall through lake ice, she’ll know what to do. LeMans, age 16, is one of twelve Junior Firefighters with the Middleton Fire Department.

According to Battalion Chief Brad Subera, 16 high school students participated in the “Juniors” program over the past four years. Although not allowed to actively fight fires, or on EMS assists or at car accident sites, at the station they learn and practice skills along with the rest of the department, he said.

Skills include extrication, ice rescue, search and rescue, and fire attacks. In addition, they are allowed on fire calls as adjunct staff.

“Juniors wear a special set of turn-out gear that’s protective, but not rated for structural firefighting,” Subera said. They may take notes, fetch and carry supplies, and help with site cleanup and rolling hoses after a fire is out,” he said.

Additionally, they serve as Rehab Staff to firefighters, providing initial triage, “taking blood pressure and pulses on the fire ground, and providing fluids and food when the firefighters first come out [of the fire]. If [firefighters] are not in a safe range, rehab sends them to the ambulance” for further treatment, he explained.

The reasons teens join Juniors run the gamut between a firefighting relative or friend piquing interest, attraction to the close knit community, wanting to help others, and fulfilling an innate desire to put out fires.

Two 18-year-olds, Josh Kampe and John Arendt, come from firefighting families.

Kampe has logged over 600 service hours in four years. Despite his father’s volunteer position with the department for almost 25 years, he found the work involved surprising, he said. “It’s not their full time job. There are hundreds of hours of training they must go through to become a firefighter,” he said.

Arendt, who said he has enjoyed learning about all aspects of firefighting, from car to structural fires, hopes to complete courses and training some day to follow in his father’s firefighting footsteps.

Shelby Bacus, age 17, admits she knew nothing about firefighting, nevertheless “leapt at the chance” to chase her childhood dream. She completed the simple application and interview process at age fourteen, and initially found the “lingo” an adjustment, she said. She also learned that much of a firefighter’s job entails teaching prevention and fire safety.

Bacus especially enjoyed public education, she said.

“Whenever I get to work with kids I feel like I am doing something worthwhile for the community and those children,” she added.

Although Bacus has gone on calls and learned about “fire science and all the mechanics it takes to be a firefighter,” it wasn’t enough. At age 16, Juniors are eligible to start taking certified firefighting classes held at Madison College, she said.

Recently, Bacus and two others, including Josh Larson, attended four-hour classes on Thursday evenings.

“So after a full high school day we decided that it would only make sense to go to more school at night,” she quipped.

Larson, age 18, credits Juniors with teaching him “more about life than anything else, helping me become the professional, mature, well-rounded man I am today.”

It is the “indescribable” smile of those he helps that he finds particularly rewarding, Larson continued.

Both Larson and Bacus are continuing their certification classes in order to fight fires, as Bacus put it, in their “spare time.”

However, for two past Juniors program and high school graduates, the goal is to become career firefighters. Garrett Christian and Brandon Acker were hired last July as probationary volunteer firefighters.

In order to actually use firefighting apparatus they must pass three levels of certification at Madison College.

Christian said his participation in Juniors clinched his decision to pursue firefighting as a career.

“It changed my life, and the way I think about firefighting,” he concluded. “It’s a great brother and sisterhood.”

But the odds of remaining at Middleton as a paid firefighter seem slim. According to Subera, the volunteer department has three career firefighters out of 113 people.

That isn’t going to stop Acker from trying. Because his father is another firefighting Battalion Chief, Acker said he’s been hanging around the station and out on calls since he was five. “This place is a second home,” he observed. “I know here, and want to stay here, but I’ve done some ride-alongs in Chicago, too.”

Where he serves isn’t the point. “When the pager goes off, I know someone is in need of assistance,” Acker said. “It’s a great feeling to know you’re helping someone else. It’s doesn’t get much better.”

That feeling is seconded by the current crop of Juniors. But it’s the deep camaraderie between firefighters that they clearly cherish.

“I feel like I have another family and the adults [at the station] are amazing role models and citizens who really care about their community,” aspiring ice rescuer LeMans stated. “I think any high schooler who is looking to be part of something good, should look into being a Junior Firefighter - plus they give you a really cool sweatshirt!”


Several Juniors positions will open in June. For more information, contact Battalion Chief Brad Subera at 608-827-1090 ext. 222 or               BSubera@mifd.net.


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